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UN population report: Key takeaways for India and the world

Recently, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has published its report 'State of World Population' report with a title '8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities'. As per the report, India has surpassed China in population and become the most populous country in the world. The UN had previously reported in November 2022 that the global population had exceeded 8 billion. Key Highlights of the reportThe world's population is currently 8,045 million, with 65% of people aged between 15-64 years, followed by the 10-24 years group (24%) and 10% above 65 years of age.Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, and Central and Southern Asia are the world's most populous regions, representing 29% and 26% of the global population, respectively, with China and India having the largest populations.By 2037, Central and Southern Asia is expected to become the world's most populous region.The population growth in South Asia is expected to decline before 2100, according to earlier UN reports. However, the latest projections suggest the global population could grow to 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 10.4 billion in 2100.The population increase up to 2050 will be concentrated in eight countries, including India, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to continue growing and contribute to more than half of the global population increase anticipated through 2050. The outlook for population growthWhile global population numbers will continue to grow for several decades, the rate of growth has fallen and has been less than 1% since 2020, largely due to declining fertility rates.60% of the world's population lives in a region where the fertility rate is below replacement level, and international migration is now the driver of growth in many countries.South Asia has some of the highest emigration trends, with India seeing an estimated net outflow of 3.5 million and Pakistan having the highest net flow of migrants of 16.5 million between 2010 and 2021.Despite the declining average number of births per woman, the total annual number of births has remained stable at around 140 million since the late 1980s due to the youthful age distribution of the global population.In 2021, 134 million babies were born worldwide, with the majority of births occurring in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The number of new-borns is expected to slightly increase to reach 138 million annually between 2040 and 2045, despite the continuous decline in the average number of births per woman. Contribution of life expectancy to the global population growthThe increasing life expectancy has contributed to global population growth, as fertility rates have been dropping in various parts of the world, while mortality rates have been decreasing due to better access to healthcare and improving standards of living.According to the 2023 report, life expectancy among men and women stands at 71 and 76 years, respectively.The UN reported that life expectancy globally reached 72.8 years in 2019, which is almost 9 years more than 1990.Further reductions in mortality are projected to result in an average longevity of around 77.2 years globally in 2050.The share of the global population aged 65 years or above is projected to rise from 10% in 2022 to 16% in 2050.By 2050, the number of persons aged 65 years and above is expected to be more than double that of 5-year olds and the same as 12-year olds, according to the UN.The global population will start to decline once fertility rates drop in high fertility regions like sub-Saharan Africa. The Population Picture of India: Current Status and Future TrendsIndia is currently the most populous country in the world, with a population of 142.86 crores people.68% of India's population belongs to the 15-64 years category, and 26% in the 10-24 years group, making India one of the youngest countries in the world.India's fertility rate has been declining steadily, with the National Family Health 5 Survey reporting a total fertility rate of 2.0 for the first time, falling from 2.2 in NFHS 4 (2015-16).India's large population is a result of "population momentum" from earlier decades, and experts predict that the country's population is likely to start declining around 2050.Factors contributing to the slowing growth rate of India's population include increased use of contraceptive methods, spacing of pregnancies, access to healthcare, and impetus to family planning, wealth, and education.India's growth rate has dropped from 2.3% in 1972 to less than 1% now, and the number of children each Indian woman has during her lifetime has come down from about 5.4 to less than 2.1 now, indicating the usage of modern contraceptives is rising across the country.The life expectancy of men in India is 71 years, while for women, it is marginally lower at 74 years, which is the same as the global life expectancy. Assessing the Implications of India's Large Population: Boon or Bane?India's large population is an opportunity for a "demographic dividend".With 68% of India's population being youth and working-age, India could have one of the largest workforces in the world.Japan and South Korea have declining populations accompanied by an aging population and a lack of workforce.India needs to capitalize on its demographic dividend by educating and skilling its youth to spur its economic growth further.India can provide skilled labour to countries that will be in dire need of such a workforce in the near future. [Ref- IE] 

Former CEC S Y Qureshi writes: EC order on national parties is based on well-defined criteria, not a subjective interpretation of their history or influence

The Election Commission of India (EC) has recently made changes to the list of national and state political parties that it recognizes. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been elevated to national party status, which is a significant boost for the party ahead of the 2024 elections. On the other hand, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Communist Party of India (CPI) have lost their national party status. Currently, there are six national parties in the country: BJP, Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, CPI (M), National People's Party, and AAP. The EC has also revoked the state party status of several parties, including Rashtriya Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh, Bharat Rashtra Samithi in Andhra Pradesh, People's Democratic Alliance in Manipur, Pattali Makkal Katchi in Puducherry, Revolutionary Socialist Party in West Bengal, and Mizoram People's Conference in Mizoram. Meanwhile, the EC has granted "recognized state political party" status to the Lok Janshakti Party in Nagaland, Voice of the People Party in Meghalaya, and Tipra Motha in Tripura. Additionally, the NCP will be recognized as a state party in Nagaland, and the TMC in Meghalaya based on their recent assembly election performance.    The criteria for recognition as a national or state party, as well as the process of recognition and derecognition, are outlined in the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order of 1968. These criteria are also supported by the Political Parties and Election Symbols Handbook of 2019, published by the EC.Key Criteria and Process for Recognition of National and State Parties by Election Commission of IndiaThe following are the key points of the standards for acknowledging national or state parties and the recognition and derecognition process as per the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order of 1968:Paragraph 6C of the order, which was amended on January 1, 2014, allows a party to continue as a national or state party in the next election even if it fails to meet the criteria laid down in paragraphs 6A and 6B.However, in the cases mentioned above, the parties have exhausted this concession even after falling short in two successive elections.Paragraph 6A lays down the criteria for state parties, which includes getting at least 6% of the votes polled in the last Assembly election and at least two MLAs, or 6% vote share and one MP from that state in the last Lok Sabha election, or 3% of the total seats in the Assembly or three seats, whichever is more.Paragraph 6B lays down the criteria for national parties, which includes getting at least 6% vote share in four or more states in the last Lok Sabha or Assembly elections and having at least four MPs, or at least 2% of the seats in the Lok Sabha with its candidates having been elected from at least three states.Paragraph 10 A (a) allows the EC to reserve a symbol for a national party that has just lost its status, provided it applies within three days of notification of the election. Benefits on being recognised as a national partyThe party's election symbol remains the same across India.Free broadcast/telecast times on Akashvani and Doordarshan during the general election.A maximum of 40 star campaigners can campaign without their travel expenses being counted in the candidate's accounts.Only one proposer is needed to file nomination.Two sets of electoral rolls are provided free of cost at the time of revision, and one copy of the electoral roll is free for candidates during general elections.The party has the privilege of consultation with the EC in the setting of election dates and giving inputs on setting electoral rules and regulations.Top slots on the EVM/ballot paper are reserved for national parties.Recognition as a national party enhances public perception of the party, which is why some parties that have lost their national party status plan to go to court.Challenges to the Authority and Discretion of the Election Commission in Recognising Political PartiesSome political parties are questioning the authority of the EC despite it being legitimised by the Supreme Court.In the Janata Dal (Samajwadi) v Election Commission of India case in 1996, the Supreme Court affirmed that the EC has the power to withdraw the recognition of a national party if it fails to fulfil the conditions prescribed under the Symbols Order.The Supreme Court, in the Subramanian Swamy v Election Commission of India case in 2008, also considered whether a symbol reserved for a party due to recognition under the Symbols Order becomes a part of its identity and cannot be taken away due to subsequent de-recognition. The Court rejected this argument, stating that the EC has the right to withdraw a political party's symbol due to poor performance in elections.Some are questioning whether the EC has been overly strict and whether it could have taken a more charitable view towards political parties. However, the rules are specific and state that a party is eligible "if, and only if" it fulfils all the criteria, leaving the EC no discretion in the matter.In 2010, the EC was sympathetic to the RJD's case, which had received 5.99% of the votes, but was unable to show leniency due to the specific language of the rules stating "not less than" 6% votes, which the RJD had failed to obtain. [Ref- IE]

Same-sex marriage’s legal recognition in India: What the petition in the SC says

A Constitution bench consisting of five judges has been established by the Supreme Court to hear a group of petitions that request legal recognition of same-sex marriages in India. The Supreme Court referred the petitions to the Constitution bench as the matter raises significant questions. The reference order issued by a three-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India stated that the arguments presented involve a complex interaction between constitutional rights, various legislative acts (including the Special Marriage Act), and the rights of transgender couples.The CaseThe plea filed in the Supreme Court is for the legal recognition of same-sex marriages in India.The plea is based on the case of Supriyo and Abhay, a same-sex couple who had a commitment ceremony, but they do not enjoy any of the rights that married couples do.Married couples are entitled to adoption rights, benefits under employment statutes, inheritance, maintenance, tax benefits, and more. These rights are denied to same-sex couples.The plea argues that state protection for a spouse continues even after their death, as their widow or widower and children can receive pension or compassionate appointments.However, the same-sex couple in the plea will not be able to avail of legally accrued benefits from laws such as the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, which only allows near relatives to object to the use of a deceased's body for therapeutic purposes or organ donation.Similarly, Section 80 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, allows for the deduction of certain sums for computing the total income of an assessee when such sums are paid on behalf of a spouse, which the same-sex couple is unable to receive.The plea argues that excluding same-sex couples from marriage is constitutionally impermissible and places a burden on them.The plea seeks the right to marry for same-sex couples, which will bring with it a host of rights, privileges, and obligations bestowed and protected by the law.The plea is based on a series of previous rulings of the Supreme Court upholding the rights of LGBTQ persons. Earlier Judgements of the Supreme CourtThe plea relies on three Supreme Court judgments – ‘Lata Singh vs State of UP’ in 2006, ‘Shafin Johan vs Asokan K.M.’ in 2018, and ‘Laxmibai Chandaragi B. vs State of Karnataka’ in 2021– to argue that an adult person has the right to marry a person of their choice under Article 21 (right to life).The plea draws attention to the 2017 ruling in 'KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India', where the court held that the rights of LGBTQ persons are real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine and inhere in the right to life, dwell in privacy and dignity, and constitute the essence of liberty and freedom.In 'Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. vs UOI', 2018 ruling the SC held that members of the LGBTQ community are entitled to the full range of constitutional rights, including the liberties protected by the Constitution.The court held that the choice of whom to partner, the ability to find fulfilment in sexual intimacies, and the right not to be subjected to discriminatory behaviour are intrinsic to the constitutional protection of sexual orientation.The plea also notes that constitutional courts across the country have protected LGBTQ couples who approached them following the SC's decision in 'Johar'. Legislations and initiatives referred to in the pleaThe plea seeks inclusion of same-sex couples for benefits given to married couples by legislations such as the Special Marriage Act, 1954 which currently does not have gender or sexual orientation as a criterion.The Special Marriage Act of 1954, which was introduced to provide a civil form of marriage to couples who cannot marry under religion-specific personal laws, is challenged for discriminating towards same-sex couples.The plea seeks a judicial review, stating that non-recognition of same-sex marriage violates rights under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.The eligibility requirements under Section 4 of the SMA, which include both being over 21 years of age, not married to another person, and not within the degree of prohibited relationship under Schedule 1, are met by both petitioners.The only reason preventing their marriage is their belonging to the same sex, as stated by the plea.The plea refers to legislations and initiatives such as the Payment of Gratuity Act 1972, Payment of Wages Rules 2009, the Employee’s Provident Fund Scheme 1952, the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan Dhan Yojana under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act 2008, the Indian Evidence Act 1872, the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, and the Surrogacy Regulation Act 2021 and the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Act 2021, which provide benefits solely to legally wedded spouses. BackgroundIn 2014, the Supreme Court recognised a transgender person’s right to self-identify their gender as male, female or the third gender.Further, the Court directed central and state governments to grant legal recognition to transgender persons, address social stigma and discrimination faced by them, and provide social welfare schemes for them.In 2019, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed.The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 states that a person who is recognised as ‘transgender’ shall have the right to ‘self- perceive’ their gender identity.Once a person identifies as transgender, they may apply for a Certificate of Identity issued by a District Magistrate.  Such a certificate will be proof of their identity as ‘transgender’ and confer rights and benefits under the Act.Following the notification of the Act, the government circulated the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020.The Draft Rules specify the manner, form and process by which persons may apply for a certificate, and in which the certificate will be issued.  The Draft Rules state that to apply for a Certificate, applicants must provide –an application form,an affidavit declaring themselves to be transgender, andreport from a psychologist of a government hospital.  Based on these documents, the District Magistrate may certify the applicant as transgender. Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020The Rules outline the application process and issuance of a Certificate of Identity for transgender individuals.The Certificate of Identity is issued by a District Magistrate and confirms a person's transgender identity. To apply, one must submit an affidavit, application form, and psychologist's report.The District Magistrate may only issue a Certificate to someone who has been a resident of the area for at least one year prior to the application.A comparison of rule-making powers between the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 and the 2020 Rules is as below: ProvisionsRule-making powers under the ActSpecification in the Draft RulesApplication for Certificate of IdentityThe manner and form in which an application is made to the District Magistrate for a Certificate of Identity.Any additional documents that may be required.Application includes a report of a psychologist employed at a government hospital, application form, and affidavit.Issuance of Certificate of IdentityThe procedure, form, manner and time period within which the District Magistrate must issue the Certificate of Identity.The Certificate must be issued within 60 days.  The District Magistrate will also issue a transgender identity card.The District Magistrate may only issue Certificates to applicants that have been residents of the area under his/her jurisdiction for one year on the date of application.The gender and name (if required) of the transgender person must be changed in all official documents as per the Certificate within 15 days of an application being made to this effect.Application for revised Certificate of IdentityThe manner and form in which an application is made to the District Magistrate for a revised Certificate of Identity after a person undergoes sex reassignment surgeryApplication must include an application form and a certificate by the Medical Superintendent or Chief Medical Officer of the institution in which the surgery took place.Issuance of revised Certificate of IdentityThe procedure, form, manner and time period within which the District Magistrate must issue the revised Certificate of Identity.A revised Certificate of Identity must be issued indicating the gender of the person as male or female within 15 days of receipt of application.A revised identity card will also be issued.Welfare measuresWelfare measures to protect the rights and interests of transgender persons and facilitation of their access to welfare schemes.The appropriate government must:review existing welfare measures and schemes to include transgender persons, ensure welfare schemes, programmes and subordinate legislation are non-discriminatory towards transgender persons,take adequate steps to prohibit discrimination towards transgender persons, andeducate transgender persons on benefits available to them.FacilitiesFacilities that establishments must provide for transgender persons.The appropriate government must create facilities, such as rehabilitation centres, HIV surveillance centres, separate hospital wards and separate wash rooms in establishments for transgender persons within two years from notification of rules.National Council for Transgender PersonsAdditional functions of the National Council for Transgender PersonsThe National Institute of Social Defence, under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, will act as the secretariat to the National Council for Transgender Persons.  The central government will provide grant-in-aid to the National Institute of Social Defence for providing this function.Any other matter that may be prescribedAny other matter that may be prescribed.If an application for Certificate of Identity is rejected, the applicant may appeal the decision within 30 days from the date of rejection.  Appeals will be directed to the appellate authority designated by the appropriate government.If an application for Certificate of Identity is made with an intention to falsely obtain the status of transgender, the applicant may face penalties. Key Issues Issues with the requirement of a psychologist's report for a Certificate of Identity application for transgender persons are:The purpose of the psychologist's report is unclear since the Act specifies that a person has the right to self-perceive their gender identity, and the District Magistrate's role is to issue a certificate to any person that self-identifies as transgender.The content of the psychologist's report is not specified, and it is unclear what additional information it will provide beyond the self-declaration in the affidavit.There is a shortage of clinical psychologists, and the requirement that the report should be from a psychologist of a government hospital may make it difficult for transgender persons to obtain a report when applying for certification. Moreover, psychologists are not certified or regulated by any statutory body, which could lead to inconsistency across government hospitals in determining which persons qualify to provide reports.The requirement that the applicant must be a resident of the area for one year before submitting an application may increase the burden on transgender persons to apply for a Certificate of Identity, especially given the ostracization that the community faces.The purpose for collecting and sharing certain data is not specified in the application form for a Certificate of Identity, and it is unclear why such information is required for the certification of a person as transgender.The penalty for making a false application is not specified in the Rules.The Rules require an affidavit to be submitted by an applicant to declare their identity as a transgender person, but also impose a penalty for falsely obtaining transgender status, making it unclear on what basis authorities may determine false applications.Welfare measures for transgender persons, such as inclusion in existing welfare schemes and non-discriminatory treatment, have not been specified in the Rules.The Rules mandate the provision of separate washrooms for transgender persons in establishments, but it may be difficult for the government to implement this for all private and public establishments.The process for determining gender after sex-reassignment surgery is unclear in the Rules, as the application form only allows for selecting 'transgender' as gender of choice, but the revised identity card issued declares the person's gender as 'male' or 'female'. [Ref- IE]

Why are school unions in Gujarat opposing the government’s PPP mode schools?

A coalition of school management, teachers, and principals has united to oppose the introduction of four new types of schools, namely Gyan Setu Day schools, Gyan Shakti Residential Schools, Gyan Shakti Tribal Residential Schools, and Raksha Shakti Residential Schools, which are being established under the public-private partnership (PPP) model by the Gujarat Education Department.These schools are scheduled to begin operating from the 2023-24 academic year, starting from Class 6. Schools under the public-private partnership (PPP) modelThe new model schools will operate on the principle of janbhagidaari.There will be a total of 500 Gyan Setu Day Schools, with a student capacity of 70 students in Class 6 for each school.Additionally, there will be 50 Swami Vivekanand Gyan Shakti Residential Schools and 50 Swami Vivekanand Gyan Shakti Tribal Residential Schools, each with a student capacity of 2,000 students. The first year will enroll 300 students in Class 6.Ten Raksha Shakti Residential Schools will be started, with a total student capacity of 500, and the first year will enroll 70 students in Class 6.Education in these schools will be free of cost for students.The state government will reimburse private entities Rs 20,000 to Rs 60,000 per student annually for recurring costs, along with a yearly hike of 7%.Private entities can use their existing infrastructure or set up additional infrastructure based on minimum criteria. Issues and ChallengesThe government plans to start 'model' schools within government schools using private capital and available infrastructure to improve education standards and enrollment in government schools.State-level associations of teachers, school management, and principals have alleged that the government aims to withdraw support from district panchayat and corporation-run schools and promote privatization of education.The consequences may be decline in enrolment in government and grant-in-aid schools leading to surplus teachers and principals.The funding being given to the 'model' schools is a "double expenditure" for the government as it is already giving grants to grant-in-aid schools.The associations suggest that this funding can be given to government and grant-in-aid schools to improve infrastructure and learning levels.Entrance exams for admission to 'model' schools are said to violate the Right to Education (RTE) Act as only "bright" students will be selected, leaving weaker students behind.Weaker students from government and grant-in-aid schools should be admitted to these PPP mode schools and provided with the latest technological education to improve their learning levels.If only good students are given admission to PPP mode schools, it will lead to the closure of more schools, and students in interior and backward areas will suffer.Grant-in-aid schools demand the abolition of the result-based grant policy where grants depend on Class 10 board results.Thousands of vacancies, from principals to administrative staff, in more than 2000 grant-in-aid secondary and higher secondary schools, directly impact the quality of education.Pay protection for appointments after 2009 and non-implementation of dearness allowance announced by the central government in July 2022 and January 2023 are some of the leading causes of teacher dissatisfaction.Recruitment of non-teaching staff, freedom of schools in making appointments, hikes in grants given by the government, minimum fee charged by private schools under fee regulation policy, converting Gujarati-medium classes to English medium, issues regarding transfers, and exemptions given to minority schools are some of the other pending issues.[Ref- IE] 

Ambedkar Jayanti 2023: Ambedkar, Gandhi and the issue of separate electorates

In India, there exists a system of reservations based on caste that reserves a certain number of seats for individuals who have historically facedsocial and economic discrimination. These reservations are applicable in various domains, including higher education, government jobs, and even political office. All legislative bodies, including Parliament, have a specific number of seats reserved for scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs). It is worth noting that reservations were not the only affirmative action mode suggested. Dr BR Ambedkar, for instance, advocated for a separate electorate mode. In the early 1930s, there was a major debate on the matter of separate electorates for lower castes, with Dr Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi, two of India's most prominent leaders, standing on opposing sides.It is worth noting that reservations were not the only affirmative action mode suggested. Dr BR Ambedkar, for instance, advocated for a separate electorate mode. In the early 1930s, there was a major debate on the matter of separate electorates for lower castes, with Dr Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi, two of India's most prominent leaders, standing on opposing sides.Ambedkar’s views on casteAmbedkar's views on caste rejected the institution of caste itself, unlike Gandhi who advocated for reforming the caste system by abolishing untouchability.Ambedkar saw contemporary upper caste Hindus' reformism as inadequate to undo millennia of discrimination.Ambedkar believed that any revolt against the caste system would only be possible after the oppressed rejected their condition and oppression as being divinely ordained.Ambedkar's political program emphasized lower castes obtaining political power.According to Ambedkar, lower castes could remove their grievances only by getting political power in their hands.Ambedkar suggested separate electorates as the form of affirmative action to empower lower castes. Ambedkar’s arguments for separate electoratesDuring the First Round Table Conference in London, Ambedkar stated that the depressed classes were a distinct and separate group, and although they were included among Hindus, they did not form an integral part of that community.The depressed classes believed they would not receive any political power unless the political machinery for the new constitution was of a special make.Ambedkar advocated for separate electorates with a double vote - one for SCs to vote for an SC candidate and the other for SCs to vote in the general electorate.Initially, Ambedkar rejected communal electorates(i.e. separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims) but later changed his position as he realized that while joint electorates could better integrate lower castes into the Hindu fold, they would do little to challenge their subservient position.Ambedkar felt that unqualified joint electorates allowed the majority to influence the election of the representatives of the dalit community, thus disabling them from defending their interests against the tyranny of the majority. Gandhiji’s OppositionGandhi opposed separate electorates as he believed they did not do enough for lower castes. He thought that lower castes should aspire to rule the kingdom of the whole world instead of being restricted to a limited share of seats.Gandhi feared that separate electorates would destroy Hinduism by driving a wedge within the community.Gandhi understood that the British had exploited internal divisions in Indian society for their own purposes, and separate electorates would only help them continue with their divide and rule policy.At that time, there was rising antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. If separate electorates were announced for lower castes in addition to those for Muslims, this would significantly reduce the power that the caste Hindu leadership enjoyed by breaking the consolidated Hindu fold.Communal AwardAs a result of the Second Round Table Conference, in September 1931, the then Prime Minister of Britain Ramsay MacDonald gave his ‘award’, known as the Communal Award. It provided separate representation for the Forward Caste, Scheduled Caste, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and Scheduled Castes. The Scheduled Castes were assigned a number of seats to be filled by election from special constituencies in which scheduled castes could vote.The Award was controversial as it was believed by some to have been brought in by the British to create social divide among the Hindus. Gandhi feared that it would disintegrate Hindu society.However, the Communal Award was supported by many among the minority communities, most notably the leader of the Scheduled Castes, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.According to Ambedkar, Gandhi was ready to award separate electorates to Muslims and Sikhs. But Gandhi was reluctant to give separate electorates to scheduled castes. He was afraid of division inside Congress and Hindu society due to separate scheduled caste representations. But Ambedkar insisted for separate electorate for scheduled caste. The Poona PactGandhi began a fast unto death on September 16, 1932, to protest against the British decision to create separate electorates based on caste while he was imprisoned in the Yerawada Jail in Pune.Ambedkar disagreed with Gandhi's political alternative of reservations as he believed that upper castes would still dominate lower castes numerically, blunting possibilities for more radical social change.Ambedkar was in a difficult position as Gandhi was a beloved leader and any harm that came to him could have severe consequences for the Dalit movement.Ambedkar ultimately succumbed to Gandhi's pressure and signed the Poona Pact, which secured reservations for lower castes but put the question of separate electorates to rest.Ambedkar was never satisfied with this outcome and viewed the Joint Electorate as a "Rotten Borough," in which Hindus could nominate an untouchable as a representative but ultimately control them as a tool.Provisions of the Poona PactThe Pact abandoned separate electorates for the depressed classes. But the seats reserved for the depressed classes were increased from 71 to 147 in provincial legislatures and 18 per cent of the total in the central legislature.Election to seats shall be by joint electorates subject, however, to the following procedure: All members of the Depressed Classes registered in the general electoral roll of a constituency will form an electoral college which will elect a panel of four candidates belonging to the Depressed Classes for each of such reserved seats by the method of the single vote and four persons getting the highest number of votes in such primary elections shall be the candidates for election by the general electorate.The system of primary election to a panel of candidates for election as before mentioned shall come to an end after the first ten years, unless terminated sooner by mutual agreement.The system of representation of Depressed Classes by reserved seats shall continue until determined otherwise by mutual agreement between the communities concerned.The Franchise of the Depressed Classes shall be as indicated, in the Lothian Committee (Indian Franchise Committee) Report.There shall be no disabilities attached to any one on the ground of his being a member of the Depressed Classes in regard to any election to local bodies or appointment to the public services. Every endeavour shall be made to secure a fair representation of the Depressed Classes in these respects.In every province out of the educational grant an adequate sum shall be ear-marked for providing educational facilities to the members of Depressed Classes.[Ref- IE]

SC ruling on Agnipath scheme: What does promissory estoppel under contract law mean?

Recently, the Supreme Court rejected petitions that challenged the Delhi High Court's decision to uphold the Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the armed forces. Among the petitioners were individuals who had been shortlisted in the previous recruitment process for the Army and Air Force.Bhushan’s argumentAdvocate Prashant Bhushan, who represented some of these candidates, informed the Supreme Court that their names had appeared on a provisional list for Air Force recruitment, but the recruitment process was cancelled when the Agnipath scheme was implemented. He urged the court to direct the government to complete the previous process based on the doctrine of promissory estoppel. He stated that there was a written exam, physical test, and medical exam conducted under the old recruitment process after which a provisional selection list was published with the ranks. According to Bhushan, for more than one year, the government kept postponing the issue of appointment letters under the old process citing reasons such as Covid-19. Meanwhile, recruitment rallies were conducted for the same posts, claiming it was for fast-track recruitments to address the demographic imbalance to recruit tribal people, etc. Bhushan added that these candidates had received job offers in BSF and other paramilitary organisations but had refused them as they were told that Air Force recruitment letters would be issued. He argued that the issue of letters being postponed due to Agnipath was not communicated to them, and hence, there was an issue of promissory estoppel.The doctrine of promissory estoppelPromissory estoppel is a concept in contract law.A valid contract under law requires an agreement with sufficient consideration. Promissory estoppel prevents a "promisor" from backing out of an agreement on the grounds of lack of consideration.The doctrine is used in court by a plaintiff(the party moving court in a civil action)to ensure execution of a contract or seek compensation for failure to perform the contract.In the ChhaganlalKeshavalal Mehta v. Patel NarandasHaribhai case, 1981, the Supreme Court listed a checklist for applying the doctrine. The first requirement is a clear and unambiguous promise. Second, the plaintiff must have acted reasonably in reliance on that promise. Third, the plaintiff must have suffered a loss.Applicability of promissory estoppel in the Agnipath caseBhushan's argument invoked the doctrine of promissory estoppel in the Agnipath case, implying that the government's actions of shortlisting candidates constituted a promise that they should be compensated for if not fulfilled.The judges rejected this argument, stating that promissory estoppel is subject to the public interest, and this is a matter of public employment rather than a contractual matter.Agnipath SchemeThe scheme lays down rules for recruitment to the armed forces, and was unveiled on June 14, 2022.Around 46,000 soldiers between the ages of 17.5 and 21 years, known as "Agniveers," will be recruited into the three services (Army, Airforce, and Navy) for a period of four years on a short-term contractual basis.In June 2022, the upper age limit for recruitment was extended to 23 years after violent protests in several states.Only 25% of the total annual recruits will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under a permanent commission. For those who are re-selected, the initial four-year period will not be considered for retirement benefits.The new system aims to reduce the defense pension bill, which has been a cause of concern for governments over the years.The new system is only for personnel below officer ranks or personnel who do not join the forcesas commissioned officers.Once selected, the aspirants will go through training for six months and then will be deployed for three and a half years.During this time, they will get a starting salary of Rs 30,000, along with additional benefits which will go up to Rs 40,000 by the end of the four-year service.At the end of the four years, each soldier will get Rs 11.71 lakh as a lump sum amount, which will be tax-free. They will also get a Rs 48 lakh life insurance cover for those four years.In case of death, the payout will be over Rs 1 crore, including pay for the unserved tenure.Recruitment will begin within 90 days under the scheme which will bring “all India, all class” recruitment to the services by way of an all-India merit-based selection, which will replace the British-era system of recruiting specific caste-based regiments. [Ref- IE]

Maternity benefits to adoptive mothers: What the law says, why it is facing a challenge in SC

Recently, the Supreme Court granted permission to hear a petition that questions the constitutionality of Section 5(4) of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. This section provides 12 weeks of maternity leave to women who legally adopt a child below three months old.  HamsaanandiniNanduri from Karnataka filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the Act's Section 5(4) for being discriminatory and arbitrary towards adoptive mothers and orphaned children over three months.Challenge to Section 5(4) of Maternity Benefit Act, 1961The 1961 Actdid not include provisions for mothers who adopt.In 2017, the Act was amended to include Section 5(4), which grants 12 weeks of maternity leave to a woman who legally adopts a child below three months old or a commissioning mother (a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in any other woman).A woman adopting a child over three months old is not entitled to any benefits under this provision.A PIL has been filed challenging Section 5(4) of the Act on the grounds of discrimination against adoptive mothers and orphaned, abandoned, or surrendered children over three months old.The petition argues that the provision is incompatible with the object of the Maternity Benefit Act and the Juvenile Justice Act.The petition also contends that the 12 weeks’ benefit for adoptive mothers is insufficient compared to the 26 weeks’ benefit for biological mothers and fails to stand the scrutiny of Part III of the Constitution, which is linked to the concept of non-arbitrariness. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961The Maternity Benefit Act was passed by Parliament on December 12, 1961, to regulate the employment of women in certain establishments before and after childbirth.The Act initially applied to factories, mines, and plantations, and was later extended to government establishments and establishments where people were employed for performances.The Act repealed the Mines Maternity Benefit Act, 1941, and Maternity Benefit Act, 1929.Section 4 of the 1961 Act prohibited the employment of women for six weeks immediately following their deliveryor miscarriage.Section 5 of the Act provided for paid maternity leave, with a maximum of 12 weeks, including six weeks before and six weeks after delivery.To avail maternity benefits, a woman must have worked for at least 160 days in the 12 months before her expected delivery.Female workers cannot be dismissed from their jobs or have their wages reduced while availing of maternity benefits.Violating the Act could result in three months’ punishment with or without a fine. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017On March 9, 2017, the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act 2017 was passed, which brought about key changes to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.The Amendment Act extended the paid leave after childbirth to 26 weeks, but only for biological mothers.It also added Section 5(4) to grant a 12-week maternity benefit period to adoptive or surrogate mothers who legally adopt a child below three months old.The amended Act introduced provisions under Section 5(5) to allow women to work from home if the nature of their work allows it.Section 11 was also inserted, which mandates establishments with fifty or more employees to have a creche facility within a prescribed distance, and allow the woman four visits a day to the creche and rest intervals. Limitations and Challenges Faced by Women in Unorganised SectorsWomen working in the unorganised sector are not eligible for the benefits provided by the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017.A 2020 report by TeamLease, a human resource company, revealed that even after three years of the amendment Act being passed, it had not resulted in a positive impact on job opportunities for women.The report also found that women's participation had declined in more than 5 out of 10 sectors since the implementation of the Act.According to the report, 7 out of the 10 sectors reviewed were expected to show positive momentum in women's workforce participation in the medium term, owing to the Act. However, 5 of the 10 sectors have experienced a drop in the share of women in their workforce.Women face various challenges after maternity, with the majority (30%) citing wage cuts, followed by resistance or lack of support from family (25%) and access to childcare (20%), according to the report. [Ref- IE]

Government Notifies Amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics code) rules, 2021

The Ministry of Electronics and IT, Government of India, has announced changes to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, with the objective of upholding the safety and trust of Digital Nagriks. The amendments pertain to the dissemination of fake and misleading information about government affairs and online gaming, and they seek to ensure that online gaming and social media intermediaries exercise increased due diligence in these areas. Under the Government of India (Allocation of Business Rules), 1961, the responsibility for overseeing online gaming regulations was assigned to the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) on December 23 of last year. Within two weeks of this decision, the Ministry drafted proposed amendments to the IT rules and made them available for consultation on January 2, 2023. Key Features of the amendmentObligation to ensure safety of online games and prohibition of hosting non-permissible gamesAccording to the amended rules, intermediaries are now required to take reasonable steps to avoid hosting, publishing, or sharing any online games that may harm users or have not been approved as permissible online games by a self-regulatory body designated by the Central Government.They must also ensure that no advertising or promotion of non-permissible online games is displayed on their platform.Authority and obligations of self-regulatory bodies for online gamingThe self-regulatory body will have the power to investigate and verify that the online game does not involve betting, that the game and the online gaming intermediary comply with the rules, and that there are safeguards in place to protect users from harm, including psychological harm, parental controls, age ratings, and measures to prevent gaming addiction.Additional obligations on intermediaries for online games involving real moneyAdditional obligations are imposed on online gaming intermediaries for online games that involve real money, including the display of a verification mark by the self-regulatory body, notification of the withdrawal and refund policy, the KYC details of users, and the prohibition of credit or financing by third parties.These rules will apply to games without a deposit for winnings if the Central Government issues a notification in the users' interest or other specified reasons.Establishment of self-regulatory bodies and Board for online gaming industryThe Government may designate multiple self-regulatory bodies that represent the online gaming industry but operate independently of their members.The Board will consist of directors without conflicts of interest and will represent all relevant stakeholders and experts, including online gaming users, educators, mental health professionals, ICT experts, child rights advocates, and individuals with public policy and administration experience.These obligations will become effective when an adequate number of self-regulatory bodies are designated, giving the online gaming industry sufficient time to comply.Prohibition of publishing fake, false or misleading information related to government businessSocial media companies have historically been granted legal immunity for user-generated content, as they are considered intermediaries under the Information Technology Act, 2000. However, they will lose this status under the IT Rules if they fail to appoint a grievance officer for India or fail to promptly address user complaints.Moreover, with this amendment, they will also lose their safe harbor protection for posts that the government has identified as misinformation.Intermediaries are now required, under the amended rules, to avoid publishing, sharing, or hosting fake, false, or misleading information regarding any Central Government business.These types of information will be identified by the Fact Check Unit of the Central Government.Obligation to not host or share false or misleading information in generalThe existing IT rules already required intermediaries to take reasonable steps to avoid hosting, publishing, or sharing information that is patently false, untrue, or misleading. [Ref- PIB]

How biodiversity loss jeopardises human health

Biodiversity, encompassing animals, plants, and fungi, possesses a valuable reservoir of chemicals with potential applications in treating a range of diseases. However, the decline of biodiversity is leading to species extinction, and with it, the loss of opportunities for medical breakthroughs.Case Study - Poison Dart FrogsThe vibrant colors of poison dart frogs, such as bright reds, yellows, and blues, serve as a clear warning to predators that the amphibians are toxic and consumption could result in convulsions, muscle contractions, and even death. The same toxic chemicals found on the frogs' skin have the potential to unlock new treatments for infections that have become resistant to currently available antibiotics.The poison dart frogs contain crucial medicinal compounds that serve as effective anaesthetics and antibiotics. Additionally, many other potentially beneficial chemicals found on the frogs have yet to be discovered or utilized commercially.Importance of Biodiversity for much needed medicinePlants, animals, fungi and bacteria provide a range of chemicals that have the potential to treat various diseases, including malaria and cancer.Biodiversity supports the natural processes that are necessary for human survival.Natural compounds found on various species including frogs and plants form the basis for many important medicines.Examples include paclitaxel, derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, and ziconotide, sourced from cone snails, both used to treat cancer and severe pain respectively.The UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) states that approximately 70% of cancer drugs are derived from nature.However, biodiversity is rapidly declining, reducing the potential for new medicines.Climate change and chytrid fungus have resulted in significant declines in frog populations, leading to the extinction of numerous species.The chytrid fungus causes a disease that has wiped out up to 90 species of amphibians.Despite the possibility of not requiring such a vast array of frog species, the potential for new medicinal discoveries from the remaining biodiversity remains valuable. Importance of Biodiversity in Drug Discovery in the FutureThere is much to be investigated in drug discovery, especially in the largely undiscovered ocean.Chemicals produced by sponges are being studied for treating cancers.Biodiversity is more than just individual species; it’s also about the interactions between them.William Gerwick from the University of California San Diego is investigating the symbiotic relationship between the weaver shrimp and cyanobacteria to find molecules that could be used to treat pancreatic cancer in humans.Losing biodiversity means losing access to unknown molecules that could save lives from infectious diseases and cancer. Threats to Biodiversity and Extinction RatesThe 2019 report by IPBES estimates that approximately 1 million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction due to human activities.Although the exact number varies according to different sources, experts agree that species are disappearing at a rate of 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than normal extinction rates.Overharvesting and land conversion are currently the biggest threats to biodiversity, including land clearance for food, livestock grazing, and ocean clearance.Since 1990, almost 420 million hectares of forest have been lost, equivalent to the size of the European Union, which has been converted into farmland or cleared for other uses.Fish stocks are also declining, with around one-third of global stocks estimated to be overfished in 2017.Human-driven climate change is another significant factor affecting biodiversity. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide are causing ocean acidification, leading to coral bleaching and the destruction of habitats.Rising temperatures and unsustainable harvesting practices are also pushing plant species to the brink of extinction. Impact of Biodiversity Loss on Human HealthReduction in the number of species can lead to the loss of valuable medicinal resources.Extinction of a species may result in the permanent loss of valuable genetic information.The decline of biodiversity can have negative impacts on human nutrition and food security.Biodiversity loss is impacting how communities access traditional medicine.Approximately 4 billion people still rely primarily on natural remedies to heal themselves.When plants used in traditional medicine become difficult to access, it puts the health of these communities at risk.Around 40% of the world’s plant species are threatened with extinction, including 723 species used medicinally.The Pacific yew tree, which is the source of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel, is now classified as near threatened under the IUCN Red List.Biodiversity loss doesn't just affect drug discovery but also has implications for human health globally. Planetary health equals human healthHumans depend on the natural world to maintain their health and wellbeing, including for drug discovery, air purification, clean water, and food production.Efforts are underway to protect biodiversity and prevent further loss, such as the agreement by 188 governments to protect 30 percent of the planet by 2030.However, it remains uncertain whether these measures will be sufficient and implemented quickly enough.Human health and planetary health are interconnected and interdependent. [Ref- IE]

How the forest conservation Bill in Lok Sabha trades forests for trees

The Lok Sabha has introduced the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 that proposes changes to the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which aims to preserve forest lands. The proposed amendments modify the Act's scope by including and excluding specific land categories and widening the range of activities allowed on forest lands.Key Features of the BillRestrictions on activities in forestThe Act limits the use of forest land for non-forest purposes and allows its de-reservation only with prior approval from the central government.Non-forest purposes include any use of land other than reforestation or cultivation of horticultural crops.The Act specifies certain activities that are exempt from non-forest purposes, including conservation, management, and development of forest and wildlife.The Bill adds more activities to this list, such as zoos, safaris, eco-tourism facilities, and silvicultural operations.The central government can also exclude any survey from being classified as non-forest purpose and specify terms and conditions for the exemptions.Land under the purview of the ActThe Bill specifies two types of land under the Act's purview: land declared as a forest under the Indian Forest Act or any other law, and land not covered in the first category but notified as a forest on or after October 25, 1980, in a government record.The Act does not apply to land changed from forest use to non-forest use before December 12, 1996, by any authorized state/UT authority.Exempted categories of landThe Bill exempts certain types of land from the provisions of the Act, such as forest land along a government-maintained public road or rail line, and roadside amenity up to a maximum size of 0.10 hectare.Forest land within 100 km along the international borders, Line of Control, or Line of Actual Control, proposed to be used for strategic linear projects, and land up to 10 hectares for constructing security-related infrastructure are also exempted.The central government can issue guidelines to specify terms and conditions for the exemptions.Assigning of land through a lease or otherwiseUnder the Act, the state government or any authority requires prior approval from the central government to assign forest land through a lease or other means to any non-governmental organization.The Bill permits such assigning subject to terms and conditions prescribed by the central government.Power to issue directionsThe central government may issue directions for the implementation of the Act to any other authority or organization under or recognized by the center, state, or union territory. The impact of the FC Act amendment on non-notified forest landsIn the post-Independence period, a large portion of forest land was declared as reserved and protected forests and brought under state forest departments, but some forested areas were excluded while areas without any standing forests were included.To address these anomalies, extensive ground surveys were supposed to be conducted, but the process remained incomplete.In 1996, the Supreme Court suspended tree-felling across the country and ruled that the Forest Conservation (FC) Act would apply to all land parcels recorded as ‘forest’ or resembling the dictionary meaning of forest.This order helped curb deforestation on land not recorded as ‘forest’, but it also prevented the exclusion of vast areas already in use for agriculture or as homesteads.The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill seeks to limit the applicability of the FC Act only to land recorded as ‘forest’ instead of completing the demarcation process on the ground.This will result in the removal of the Act’s protection from millions of hectares of land that have forest-like characteristics but are not notified as such.According to the State of Forests Report 2021, India’s forest cover is 713,789 sq km, of which nearly 28% or 197,159 sq km is not recorded as ‘forest’. Amendment to FC Act Raises Concerns About Environmental ConservationRestricting the scope of the FC Act will make it easier for developers to secure forest clearance for their projects.Compensatory afforestation is a key condition for forest clearance, where the developer must carry out afforestation on equivalent non-forest land or degraded forest land twice the extent of the forest area diverted.The government proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Rules in June 2022 to allow developers to raise plantations on land where the FC Act is not applicable and swap them for subsequent requirements of compensatory afforestation.This will incentivize building private land banks of plantations and streamline the forest clearance process.Conservationists view this as a double whammy as unrecorded forests will be lost to plantations, and these plantations will subsequently help divert recorded forests for projects. Proposed exemptions to the FC Act under the Amendment BillThe Bill seeks to expand existing executive orders that exempt certain types of projects from FC Act clearance and make them part of the Act itself.The construction of strategic linear projects of "national importance and concerning national security" within 100 km of international borders, the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the Line of Control (LoC) are proposed to be exempted from FC Act clearance.India’s land boundaries extend over 15,000 km.The construction of defence-related projects or camps for paramilitary forces or public utility projects in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas may also be exempted."Security-related infrastructure" requiring up to 10 hectares will be exempted, without defining its scope.The Bill adds silvicultural operations, construction of zoos and wildlife safaris, eco-tourism facilities, and any other activities "the Central Government may, by order, specify" to the list of activities related to conservation and therefore exempt from the FC Act.These proposed exemptions are broad and leave a lot to the Centre to decide retrospectively. Proposed amendments to FC Act jeopardize forest conservation and indigenous communitiesFC Act review should consider concessions for land traditionally controlled by indigenous and forest communities.Despite the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in 2006, the opportunity for indigenous and forest communities to provide consent regarding the diversion of forest land for development projects has gradually decreased.Proposed Bill limits community say on extensive plantations that may be established on their land.Although the Bill claims to address the changing ecological, strategic, and economic landscape of the country while improving the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities, the proposed amendments primarily promote fast-growing plantations to achieve carbon neutrality, thereby restricting the scope of the FC Act.Fast-growing plantations score faster carbon growth and count towards increasing green cover, but natural forests perform key ecosystem services and provide livelihoods for millions.Proposed focus on tradeable vertical repositories of carbon can jeopardize the purpose of the FC Act to protect and conserve India’s forests.[Ref- IE]